Military News

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Tuskegee Airmen program lets students fly

by Senior Airman Rachel Hammes
55th Wing Public Affairs

11/6/2015 - OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, NEB. -- "You're doing really well. Remember, you have to constantly fly here, or else you're letting the airplane fly you and we don't want that. The airplane doesn't have the brain you've got, and it might take us someplace we don't want to go."

Michael Cook, a flight simulator supervisor with the 338th Combat Training Squadron here, helped his student maneuver through a dense wall of snow clouds, gaining altitude until the aircraft reached clear air. Once there, it was smooth sailing.

Cook, who has worked with flight simulators for the last 16 years is used to helping newly-minted pilots-to-be gain confidence. But the three Alfonza W. Davis Middle School seventh graders crowding the RC-135 OFT simulator Nov. 3 are not part of his usual demographic. But that's the whole point, said Cook.

The Tuskegee Airmen Flight Simulator Program was created in 2012 by the Alfonza W. Davis Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen Incorporated, and aims to perpetuate the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen "through ongoing positive and beneficial relationships with youth," according to the organization. The program partners with Offutt Air Force Base once or twice a month, bringing groups of nine students ages 11 to 18 to experience the simulator.

By making younger students more interested in STEM subjects, TAI hopes to encourage a passion for science and technology that will carry on into adulthood, Cook said.

"Our country has fallen way behind the rest of the world in science, technology, engineering and math," he said. "When I was growing up, we were the number one nation in the world in those disciplines. We put a man on the moon in 1969, just as I came on active duty, and we did that with minimal computers. We're hoping if we can get one of nine students interested in the STEM subjects every visit, we as a country can grow back to what we were - ranked number one."

Senior Master Sgt. Anthony Blalock, the vice president of the local chapter of TAI, agreed with Cook.

"This is the age when kids are influenced the most," he said. "If we provide them with knowledge and experiences that expand their thought process, then we are able to guide them down a path of success versus letting them being influenced by negative factors."

The program has already brought over 500 students to Offutt AFB to experience the simulator.

"It was really fun," said Mollee Francis, a seventh grader who flew the simulator for fifteen minutes with Cook's help. "It was like you were the one flying the plane."

"It was so cool," said Alivia Conway. "You get to do this when you're really young, and you don't have to take any classes to do it."

The program made them both want to be pilots, they said.

Prior to their turn in the simulator, Todd Clark, flight simulator supervisor with the 338th Combat Training Squadron here, briefed them on the purpose of the local chapter of TAI in creating the program.

"The Tuskegee Airmen had a goal - fly for the U.S. Army Air Corps," he said. "They didn't let all the obstacles society put in their way stop them. You guys are like them - you're going to take us where we're going."

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